Millstone burn could be viewed as six separate sites, seven if you count Snook Bank over the other side of the burn, more if you take into account the disparate locations of some of the stones listed as part of the same group. Rock art nomenclature can be a funny business, as new panels are discovered. Hence some of these have ended up with unwieldy and not-exactly-inspiring names like 'Millstone Burn 6c(ii)'.
The OS map marks two concentrations of them, but the Beckensall Archive lists a whopping 65 separate marked stones as part of the Millstone Burn groups, and that doesn't include those at Snook Bank.
Groups one and two are the closest to the road, with some from either side on either side of the road, just to make it trickier to keep track. A few of those on the east side seem to have been relocated, as they seem to form part of a row of spaced stones next to an old trackway. Stan Beckensall has suggested that this track may be of prehistoric origin, leading from , Simonside, via the rock art at Lordenshaws, the down to the river Coquet, up again to the rock art, standing stones and cairnfield of Addyheugh and through Millstone Burn, across to the ridge of sandstone to the coast, via Corby's Crags, Lemmington Wood and Lamp Hill, so maybe they have been relocated, maybe not.
Group three is mostly around the 220m contour, just by the trouser-snagging barbed wire double fence. After 3e(ii), things get a bit awkward. The other side of the fence is seriously deep heather, and panels 3e and 3g are flush to the ground, so without a gps, I'm pretty sure I'd not have found them in a month of Sundays.
Group four is back over the fence, onto more navigable terrain, some more complex motifs, but heavily eroded. Back over the fence again (the rock art hurdles or what?) and down amongst the heather for group five, which is really just the one stone, but a nice one worth visiting.
Group six is one of the most interesting of the lot, as it seems to be arranged around a natural feature that screams (to the overactive imagination) "I'm an Ur-temple*! You see if I'm not!" Just to top the sense of viewing-apace, the motifs are on the edges of some stepped outcrop. I still can't decide if these steps are the result of quarrying or a natural thing. It's on the heathery (north) side of the fence, but you still need a final hop to get back down to the road.
A word of warning to those in cars, approaching from the south, it's a dodgy blind curve that ges on for yonks, so be wary when looking for the parking spot. Approach from the north may be easier for those in cars. Alternately, the bus to Longframlington drops you off well placed for a nice hike up past the cairns on mount pleasant.
One of the things that nags at my mind is the sink-hole like hollows that occur near some of the marked rocks. They could be bell pits, I'm not sure. It does seem a bit more than coincidence that they are mostly near the rock art, though I didn't wander too far away from the RA, so I couldn't say if these pits are evenly distributed away from the RA. I do know that some of them have tadpoles, and that if you get too close to the edge, you find yourself in deep mucky sludge that hints it goes down a fair way. More background detail that adds to the texture of the place's histry is the fact that the old roman road runs right next to the area with the carved rocks, and that there was once an old coaching inn hereabouts, of which all trace is now lost.
All told, there's a lot to be found here, but it's awkward in places and often difficult to see. Winter visits are probably a good idea. The groups near the A697 are easy enough to find using just the OS map, but if you're after seeing any of the others, don't be fooled as I was a few years back into thinking that the western group on the map are on the obvious outcrop. They're not, and whilst it's a nice view, I don't recall finding any carvings. In retrospect, there may have been, but at the time I was expecting soething as snazzy as Old Bewick, so I would have probably missed it if it was there. It's probably quite easy to miss some even with a gps if the light isn't right, they can be quite faint.
I've a strong suspicion that the reason the motifs around here (including those at Snook) are so faint has something to do with the now extinct power station at Blyth. If this place was chosen partly as a result of it's excellent views over Northumberland's coastal plain, it's position as the first set of propr hills between the sea and the Ceviots has probably also mant it's got more than it's fair share of acid rain. Often, there's a weird microclimate going on here as the air rises and moisture either dumps down here whilst it's dry a few miles away, or else it stays up in the clouds whilst in Rothbury it's chucking it down.
One last thing of note about Millstone burn. It's where Prof Richard Bradley and his chums from Reading Uni did their valiant attempt to apply statistics to the study of rock art. Apparently they found that the more complex motifs are situated where there is a wider view. Whilst some would say this is a bit of a no-brainer, they did try, and so now we know there's only a small likelihood that the marked rocks were chosen as a result of random chance. But the view isn't the be-all and end-all of the decision to mark some rocks and not others, else the bigger outcrop to the west would be dripping with CnRs.
These fieldnotes may have been brought to you with the daft assistance of the Millstoneburn mono-tourist board. Come to Millstone, gateway to the Cheviots, and bring a gps device in case you find any new panels!
* You know, those things Cope goes on about in the papery tma. A bit out of fashion these days, but they're still there out in the landscape, whether they're a la mode or not.
With the nice additions to this site by Greywether, Fitzcoraldo and Hob (!), it seems that no panel will escape the sharp eye! As a modest step to completeness, I added two pics taken in 2002, of panel 5a. Who's going for number 6?
The Graeme C and I stopped off here on our way back from the RAM05 meeting. Our heads were full of beautiful rock art but the sun was still up and we had time to squeeze one more site in on our journey south. The Millstone Burn was ideal as it lay beside the A697 and was therefore on our way home.
We parked up beside the field gate and walked up the bank. Unfortunately I had left my 'Beckensall Bible' at home and only had a printed map from MAGIC to guide us.
Within a few minutes we had found a number of cup marked rocks and discovered the boulder that Stan describes as "the most complex and pleasing design of this entire group". Stan is spot-on with his description, we found it very pleasing.
We searched the outcrops further uphill doing a bit of peel-reveal-replace here and there and discovered a number of rocks with cups and weathered-out motifs.
We then moved over onto the moor to the north of the field. Graeme vaulted the barbed wire fence with one fluid cat-like movement. Not wanting to look like a girl I followed suit only to end up entangled in the fence with a great rip in my duds and a slightly bruised ego. Could have been worse I suppose.
We only found one cup marked boulder on the moor but to be honest with you we weren't looking too hard in the knee-high heather, I guess we'd seen enough for one day. It's always good to leave something to come back for, I guess we'll be coming back to Northumbria for a long time yet.